Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ahead of us or behind us?

Saint Kanakadaasa is a famous Kannada poet, philosopher and social reformer. He was a Shepherd chieftain, king of a small province and after a bitter battle with his enemies gave up his post and spent rest of his life in total devotion to the Lord.  He lived during the 16th century and was a contemporary of Saint Purandaradasa, who has composed several thousand kritis (compositions) and revered as the founder of the present Karnatic style of music.  Saint Thyagaraja, who lived after Saint Purandaradaasa and Kanakadaasa's time further enriched the Karnatic style of music. Contribution of these great men to music and literature cannot be described in words and deserves to be written in golden letters.

Legend has it that when Kanakadaasa was badly wounded in the war and about to die, Lord Balaji appeared in his dream state and brought to him to life subject to the condition that he would give up his state and become a Bhakta (devotee) of the Lord.  Kanakadaasa spent his later years in total devotion. He was with Saint Vyasaraja, Raajaguru of Sri Krishnadevaraaya, the Vijayanagar King. Towards the later part of his life, he traveled all over South India including Tirupathi, Udupi and many other places. He has composed several hundred Devaranaamas (songs in the praise of the Lord) as well as songs with social reform as the goal. His major works are Mohana Tarangini, Hari Bhakti Saara, Rama Dhanya Charitre and Nala Charitre. His works have great literary value and long lasting impact on the society. He himself faced severe persecution from a section of the society but overcame the difficulties with his patience and perseverance. Some of his compositions are in the form of riddles and known as "Kanaka's Mandige", the word Mandige meaning a sweet dish cooked on a hot earthen pot (like tandoori rotis made in the hot oven).  The item is difficult to prepare but very tasty to eat. Some of Kanakadaaasa's writings are difficult to comprehend and require deep knowledge of mythology and philosophy to solve and understand them.  Some of his other writings are in very simple language and can be understood by one and all as well.  His Rama Dhanya Charitre needs a special mention and is the story of an imaginary conflict between two corns, Ragi and Paddy, and their dispute solved by Srirama. The story is symbolic of class struggle of those times and upholds the dignity of labour and the philosophy that the working class is the real backbone of the society and not the elite class.

Legends have it that once Lord Thimmappa (Balaji of Tirupathi) told Kanaka in his dream to come over to Thirupathi. Balaji appeared in the dream of the Dharmadarshi (person in-charge of the temple affairs) that one of his greatest devotees is coming to have his Darshan and he should be received with respect and proper arrangements be made for his stay. Balaji is known as the Lord of the Seven Hills (Saptagirivaasa in sanskrit and Edukundalavaada in Telugu) and in those days one had to climb the hills on foot to reach the main temple on the top of the hills. There is a practice of receiving VIPs in Tirupati by symbolically presenting the keys to the temple. The temple keys (or their replica) are carried in a palanquin with full honour. Dharmadarshi and his associates were coming down the hill with the palanquin of temple keys and enquiring with people going up the hill as to whether anyone has seen the Saint Kanakadaasa climbing the hill.  Kankadaasa lived a simple life and was climbing the hill with his Ekanaada (one stringed musical instrument) and singing songs in the praise of the Lord.  In the middle of the hill Dharmadarshi was enquiring with all devotes climbing the hills whether they saw Saint  Kanakadaasa. Since he kept a low profile, nobody knew him.  Dharmadarshi asked Kanaka himself whether he saw Kanakadaasa climbing the hill. Kanakadaasa replied in the affirmative. Dharmaadhikari asked him where he was.  Kanaka replied; "Ahead of those who are behind him and Behind those who are ahead of him".  Dharmadarshi could not understand the deep meaning of Kanaka's words and felt he was a mad fellow and went further down the hill in search of the saint. Unable to find him he came back and went home. Kanaka himself climbed the hill, could not find any food and accommodation and slept in some corner of the temple.

In the night Lord Balaji appeared in the dream of the Dharmadarshi and admonished him for ignoring his commands. Dharmadarshi was told that the person who answered him in a riddle was himself Saint Kanakadaasa. Woken up after the dream,  Dharmadarshi and his assistants searched the Saint in the middle of the night, apologised to him and thereafter made suitable arrangements for his stay and darshan of the Lord. The saint lived in Tirupati for some time and made many compositions in the praise of Lord Balaji.

What Saint Kanakadaasa said was an example of his philosophical outlook. It was relativity explained much before Issac Newton, nearly a century before. As the Saint said, we are all younger to those who are older than us and older than those who are younger to us;  We are the followers of our leaders and leaders of our followers and marching on the journey of life Ahead of those behind us and Behind those who are ahead of us.


  1. very touching article. All these great saints, called themselves servants of the Lord and tried to give so many simple hints to live a better life. We, humans,mmm.. we do not take the tips. We will never understand the universal truth that there exits only one God and go on live on the misunderstanding that their God alone is great.When are we going to learn? may be never will we..................?

  2. I like the the denouement of this post. I believe it holds much wisdom. I find great comfort in the fact that my disappointments (where applicable) arise from my own expectations and does not rest on comparisons with people around me. That has given me much satisfaction in life - I am ahead of those behind me and behind those who are ahead - and that's perfectly fine!

  3. Beautifully written and the emanating wisdom is so simple and yet so profound. sadly we have learnt very little from these saints and practice even less.
    Some of Kanakadasa's compositions still reverberate in my head